This year, my high school drill and dance teacher will be retiring after devoting years to Clovis High and her students. She was an incredible influence in my life, and I was thrilled to hear that one of her colleagues is putting together a tribute to her, collecting memories from her dancers to share with her at her retirement celebration. I thought I'd share here what I'll be sending in.
As you are heading into retirement, I wanted to take a moment to share with you the impact you had on me as a young kid, which is perhaps more than you could ever know.
When I started Clovis High, I was not just new to the school; I was new to the district. I didn’t know a soul. For a shy, terrified kid afraid of her own shadow, this was nearly insurmountable. My mom had left my dad, and our home life was difficult and unstable as my mom tried to find her footing suddenly as a single mom with five children in tow. In my old district, I was a twirler on the baton team, but as Clovis High had only a solo twirler, already selected, my mom pushed to get me on the drill team, well after tryouts had occurred in the spring. I didn’t even know what a drill team was, but mom knew I needed something to be involved in, or I was likely to fade into invisibility in the vast, overwhelming world of high school. She knew I needed stability, routine, a sense of belonging somehow. You probably don’t even know that when my mom dropped me off on that very first day of band camp, I wandered around campus for literally an hour before I worked up the courage to enter the cafeteria, where over 100 girls, every one a stranger to me, were working out and warming up. The only thing that got me in the door on that first day was that the fear of telling my mother that I hadn’t been able to walk in the door was slightly greater than my fear of all of those unfamiliar eyes looking at me, wondering why I was in their space. I didn’t think I belonged. I didn’t think anyone would think I belonged.
Eventually I did go in, and found you, as instructed. Without hesitation, you smiled and took me in, and introduced me to some of the other freshmen and some of the senior leaders as well. Band camp week was intensive, difficult, and incredibly rewarding, and I found that I loved being a part of the team. I also started school that year with friends I wouldn’t have met unless I had been thrust into the family of band in the few weeks before the first school bell rang. That introduction was life-saving—life-changing. I found myself part of an incredible group of talented, fun, energetic, and devoted group of people would become my second family. Anyone who was a part of band, especially in the 1980s, can attest to the unbelievable numbers of hours we all spent together, week in and week out, on the field, in the gyms, traveling on buses, sleeping on gym floors on weekend band review trips. You helped make that family happen for me.
Not only did I gain a family and a sense of social inclusion at a particularly important time in my life, but you, and the drill and dance program itself, are the most singular influence on helping to develop my sense of self and confidence in myself. I remember at the end of my sophomore year, we had auditions for the leadership of the team. I had never seen myself as a leader; I was a follower, and a darn good one at that. However, I remember sitting down with you and you encouraging me to consider auditioning for a leadership role. I don’t remember your words; what I remember is somehow seeing myself through your eyes, hearing that you thought of me as having that kind of potential. It genuinely opened up new possibilities for me—pushed me to see myself in new ways. It was one of those moments in time that serves as a catalyst, inspiring real change. I still had trepidation, but decided that if you could see me as a leader, I could try to live up to what you saw. I closed my eyes and dove in, working to silence my insecurities. You placed faith in me, and I found myself the Parade Section Leader my junior year. It was challenging to lead a group of fifty girls, but I found that my peers respected me and listened to me, and I was a good at diplomacy and working cooperatively with instructors and dance members alike to help bring success to our performances. I realized that I really enjoyed it, and was made a Co-Captain my senior year, a year that capped off four years of incredible experiences in high school, led predominantly by you.
High school is a formative time for young people, and you came into my life—or rather, I was thrust into yours—when I dearly needed it. Your talent, leadership, love, and guidance shaped me, and so, so many others, in ways big and small throughout the years. Your devotion to your girls was abundantly evident in everything you put into our team. You taught us dance, choreography, musicality, teamwork. You pushed our physical abilities beyond what we thought we were capable of. Even more importantly, you taught us to look inside ourselves and grow in strength, commitment, and confidence. Without you, I’m not sure I would have learned to see myself as a leader. In my professional career, I have taken on many leadership positions—I relish them, enjoy having a voice, and being a support and advocate for others. That all began with you—the day you looked at me and saw what I could not see. For that, I am ever, ever grateful.
My story is just one of literally thousands. As you move on to this next chapter of your life, I pray that you know just a fraction of the amount of joy and love and confidence you have imparted to your drill and dance team members, as well as your Dance Rep kids. You have been an inspiration and a guiding light. I thank you. We thank you. We love you and wish you well.
Donna Mayes Lutjens